Tom Harkin was born in Cumming, Iowa, where he still resides. Harkin earned a bachelor's degree from Iowa State University and a law degree from Catholic University.
He served in the Navy from 1962 to 1967. Afterward, he practiced law.
Harkin first was elected to the U.S. House in 1974 and was re-elected four times. He was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1984.
Harkin made an unsuccessful bid for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1992.
He and his wife, Ruth, have two children.
Tom Harkin, a Democrat Senator from Iowa, is a tough-minded and pragmatic liberal who has represented some of the country's most conservative constituencies for more than two decades. But he has built his base with a solid service operation and tireless campaigning.
"I've always said that you take care of your own backyard first," he said.
Harkin's role increased greatly after Democrats regained control of the Senate in 2006. He is a persistent critic of U.S. farm policy and became the chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, where in 2008 he oversaw the writing and passage of a $290 billion farm bill. It became law after Congress overrode a veto by President George W. Bush.
In 2011, Harkin was a leader in efforts to scrap and replace the No Child Left Behind education law, but changing the law has been difficult and the matter remains unresolved.
In 2012, Harkin worked to ensure Congress didn't allow the rate of Stafford loans to double to 6.8 percent as scheduled.
Harkin has been a strong supporter of childhood nutrition programs and health programs that stress preventive efforts designed to keep people out of hospitals.
Harkin ran unsuccessfully for the 1992 Democratic presidential nomination, returning to his roots as a traditional, labor-leaning liberal. He developed alliances with President Bill Clinton's White House to push through a blend of pro-farm, pro-trade policies.
Harkin took over as head of the committee with jurisdiction over health care after the death of Sen. Edward Kennedy in 2009. Harkin helped push into law the 2010 health care reform bill.
Harkin called in 2010 for Congress to pay more attention to for-profit colleges to make sure federal money is being spent wisely and that the for-profit schools "are serving students, not just the shareholders." He cited students who said they were misled and "false hopes pedaled on a billboard or a pop-up ad or an enticing phone call."
The Center for Public Integrity reported in June 2010 that some 20 members of Congress disclosed owning at least $1,001 worth of shares in BP or Transocean Ltd. in their 2008 financial forms. Harkin reported owning BP stock valued between $1,001 and $15,000.
Harkin has been a lightning-rod for Republicans, stirring intense opposition and prompting the GOP to field big-name candidates against him early in his Senate career. They had largely given up by 2008, when Harkin dispatched little-known challenger Christopher Reed.
Committee Assignments: Appropriations; Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions(Chair); Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry; Small Business and Entrepreneurship
American Conservative Union Rating: 5
Americans for Democratic Action Rating: 95
Tom Harkin is not seeking re-election in 2014.
(Last updated by The Associated Press on June 11, 2014.)